>> Poncho's Tlayudas | Eat the World Los Angeles

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Poncho's Tlayudas

๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ Mร‰XICO (Oaxaca)

EDITOR'S NOTE: An updated version of this article (29 December 2023) is available as part of the Free Friday Favorites section of our Substack page. Check that out here:
The tortilla of a tlayuda might just be the only one you can cook ahead of time and still make wonderful in the coming days, but even so it requires such a high skill level that you rarely find them done well outside of Oaxaca. If done right, a tlayuda will be on an ultra-thin disc that approaches the diameter of a pizza, with all the water cooked out on the first pass. For this reason, the quality does not decline if the tortilla cools and is reheated.

While Los Angeles has no shortage of Oaxacan people, the tlayudas are somehow a separate entity and usually just average. The best from back home are made not in restaurants serving a wide range of cuisine, but from masters that spend their nights over comales and fire perfecting their trade. All of the tlayudas in town are imported, but sourcing matters and most of the best stay in Oaxaca. Lucky for all of us, this backyard operation found a source for top-rate tlayudas and asiento, the pork lard that makes them melt in your mouth.

Everyone is invited to this backyard barbecue.

From South Main Street, only two signs in the driveway (at the beginning and end of article) announce you have arrived at the right place. There is also music and the smell of grilled meats making their way out to the sidewalk, but neither of those things is a rarity for this South Los Angeles neighborhood. Follow the signs, the smells, and the sounds down the driveway and you come to a backyard that instantly promises something so special that it already seems fleeting. Eventually enough people will want these tlayudas that this weekly backyard Friday night party will not be enough. To some degree, it already has with a regular Sunday stand at Smorgasburg downtown feeding folks for whom a trip down to South Park would be unthinkable.

But for the time being, skip that and come here. It has the feeling of magic.

Master Alfonso "Poncho" Martรญnez and his craft.

All that being said, it is getting more difficult. The night of our visit was well after Poncho was well-known and his tlayudas sold out by 19:30, an event he announced on Instagram as a first and apologized profusely to anyone still on their way. Articles had placed the sell-out time around 22:00 or after, but his "fame" and beautiful winter weather combined to bring many families and groups of friends. Our order had made it in around 19:00 thankfully, so we grabbed beers from the fridge, ordered high-end mezcal, and could not have asked for more.

There are three meats available, all cooked over the fire and wonderful. A particularly Oaxacan form of thin dried beef cecina called tasajo is here, but when I asked for what my first order should be, Sr. Martรญnez told me to go with the chorizo with a side of moronga, the house-made blood sausage seen to the left in both photos. Don't sleep on this link even if you are normally not the type to enjoy blood sausage, it goes down simply with hints of sweetness and absolutely no iron. The consistency rejects the usual softness and liquid for a firm density that chews much more like a sausage without blood.

The tlayudas themselves are grilled with nice even layers of that asiento and beans and covered in stringy Oaxacan cheese and finely chopped cabbage. When grilled, the whole thing can be folded over and is cut into three sections for ease of eating. The chorizo is indeed a good choice, crumbly and slightly spicy, such a complement to every taste, especially the char from the black barrel mesquite grill. A small bowl of smoky dark salsa is on every table if your pallet requires it, refilled as necessary.

As my group all leaned back in their chairs feeling somehow victorious, I grabbed another beer from the fridge and Sr. Martรญnez came to our table to ask what we thought and how we heard about the place. The question came in such a way that you almost felt he had not heard the same accolades that everyone else did. Despite all the recent success, the approval and happiness of these three new guests were at the top of his concerns.

On the night of our visit, a mezcal vendor offered glasses and bottles.

For the time being, that is the magic of "Viernes de Tlayudas" here in South-Central. Make sure to come soon, not only before they sell out of delicious tlayudas every Friday evening, but also before the whole event becomes unsustainable from the success Poncho wholeheartedly deserves. Even if the rest of us were never to find out, there are some quarter of a million Oaxaqueรฑos in different parts of the city that eventually will.


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